The Problem With Your Problem With Christian Cleavage

{written 1.24.15 at 1:30am}

Oh. Man. It's past midnight, it's gonna be a long weekend, and I should be asleep. But there's a trending topic on twitter that is haunting me, just absolutely haunting me. 


A (male) Christian author and pastor wrote a blog post yesterday entitled "The Problem With Christian Cleavage". It said the same things we've all heard, keep things covered, I could get hot and bothered just looking at your knees so don't make it harder (no pun intended) (I don't think), men are visual creatures, women should avoid being a stumbling block to their very sensitive eyes. And it of course created the expected backlash. The post was title "The Problem With Christian Cleavage" and among other issues, directed it's entire argument at women and their need to cover up or be doomed to be a stumbling block, it blamed any and all skin showing on a lack of self-esteem and credits the pastor himself as "a man who greatly yearns for women to find their identity in Christ". Which is all well and good but sets up an et nature me vs. you paradigm off the bat. 

I was 20 years old and a youth leader in my church and still maneuvering my way through who I was as a person and as a Christian. And one mom, we'll call her Mrs. Mean, on more than one occasion referred to me as a hooker. In fact the very first time I ever met her she walked up to me and took me by the hands and asked me if I knew how slutty my clothing was, if I knew I was stumbling block to her 13 year old son. "Iron sharpens iron," she said, "and you should have either worn a different shirt or stayed home." And then she did the most damaging thing she could do in that moment. She insisted on praying for me while gripping my hands so I couldn't walk away. She never even asked me my name. 

It felt like someone had set me on fire.

I will forever be thankful to the youth pastor I was serving under at the time who made it clear to her she was never to address her concerns to me again and only bring them to him. He took bullets for me that would probably have driven me out of the church. But I still caught the way she glared at me as she picked up her kids. 

Let me make one thing really clear here. As a 30 year old woman I look back at that girl and know that I was absolutely not doing anything wrong. My clothes weren't inappropriate, and if I was a stumbling block to her son it was probably because she had taught her son that any women's clothing that wasn't a turtle neck could be a stumbling block. Or because he was a teenage boy and I was, you know, female. But I didn't get that then. Can I tell you how I sobbed? Can I tell you how I tried to leave volunteering with the youth? Or how I threw out several pieces of perfectly modest (and cute!) clothes? Can I tell you how ashamed I was? How embarrassed? How I would freeze in panic whenever she came to pick up her kids? Her son, he's a young man now, married and has kids, happy, God-fearing, whatever damage I or anyone else did with our oh so dangerous lady-bits seems to have been short term. In other words he became a grown man and is fine. It took me ten years to even begin to find healing from the harm she inflicted on me. We recently saw each other at a wedding and I felt all those same feelings, I felt a physical, visceral reaction to her. I felt panicked and shamed and less than.

Let's forget the debate over whether men are visual or whether women need to cover up or men need to take responsibility. Let's talk, instead, about who's job it is to convict someone of how they dress, or anything else. Ready? Not yours ever. It is the Holy Spirit's job. And if you try to do his job you will always ALWAYS fail. You will ALWAYS do more harm than good. The Holy Spirit does not shame and demean, he is not in the business of making people feel small and unloved. Conviction is pinpoint accurate, shame is always a lie. Conviction is about love, it's rooted in love, and it cannot happen unless love is the foundation of the relationship. I know the Spirit loves me, so when I feel the push towards conviction, it might hurt, but I know it's root. When bloggers and pastors and people who KNOW ALL THE THINGS post words for the entire world to see and feel, when they aim with their eyes closed and hope a target, any target, gets hit, love is not even remotely part of the equation. 

I do believe that the Holy Spirit can use people, pastors, bloggers, authors, anyone really, to speak words that create conviction in someone. But when I've seen that done it almost always came with a heart full of love and compassion and very rarely with a me vs. you sound. I once heard it preached that the amount of time you spend in prayer for someone is directly proportionate to your right to speak into their life. This advice is not just for us one on one. This is perfect advice for anyone trying speak into the lives of anyone. It's for pastors, speakers, authors, bloggers, tweeters, facebookers and anything I forgot. Your right to speak into the lives of anyone is directly proportional to the amount of time you spend praying for those people, whether it's your church, your audience or your followers, or your neighbor, or friends.